When teaching agile classes, I’m occasionally asked if I could provide an example of an agile team from cinema or television. While the first Avengers movie does a good job of illustrating Bruce Tuckman’s stages of team development (especially storming!), they are far from being agile.
The example I most frequently provide is that quintessential 1980’s TV show, The A-Team. If your only exposure to The A-Team was the horrible 2010 movie starring Liam Neeson, you owe it to yourself to watch a few episodes of the original series. Keep in mind, this was the 80’s so the show does glorify violence, isn’t very politically correct and shows many tropes from that era, but it is still worth seeing!
Here are a few of the reasons for this:
- The team is self-managing. True, they have been disavowed by their government and are being hunted by military police for a crime they didn’t commit, but with each episode where they help a new client they figure out their way of working without being mired in bureaucracy or seeking guidance from outside the team.
- Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith is the leader of the team, but acts as a servant-leader. While he leads planning efforts for their missions, he does this in an inclusive, collaborative manner and will defer to his other team members during the execution of their missions.
- Plans are created, and Hannibal loves it when a plan comes together, but they are also willing to throw the plan away when it is no longer realistic.
- They exploit the diversity of their team rather than being constrained by it. Bosco “B.A.” Baracus might call H. M. “Howling Mad” Murdock a “crazy fool”, but he respects Murdock’s ability to fly almost any type of aircraft. Each team member brings a different, but complementary skill set to their missions. In this regard, they are a “whole team”. Each is highly skilled at what they do which could have resulted in ego clashes, but they always put the team ahead of themselves.
- They are comfortable with complex, uncertain situations. Every episode challenges them with a unique mission where their resources are constrained but they still manage to put together creative gadgets and weapons with common household items to help them succeed.
- There is a high degree of psychological (if not physical!) safety within the team. They operate with true radical candor – while they care deeply about each other, they don’t pull any punches when providing constructive feedback. They are also very supportive when a fellow team member takes a risk – they will always have that person’s back!
- They are working towards a shared, strategic vision. While most episodes focused on their helping clients through difficult situations, the team continued to work towards their overarching goal of clearing their names.
Finally, they are long-lived and stable, and as I wrote in my article from last week, this helps to overcome many of misinterpretations which can occur when we first work with someone. This is best illustrated in the following quote from “B.A.” Baracus:
B.A. Baracus: You learn to love him, Mama. But it takes a long time. (Referring to Hannibal)
Amy: That’s the same thing he said about you.